BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Deshnoke, a small town in India, is home to a little temple dedicated to Karni Mata, a Hindu goddess. Legend says that Karni Mata’s stepson drowned in a pond while trying to drink from it. Karni Mata summoned the god of death to revive him. The god of death first refused this command, but agreed on the basis that all of Karni Mata’s male children be reincarnated as rats, which is also why the temple is home to, and worships, over 20,000 black rats.
Some believe the holy rats, called kabbas, have a different origin story. The other legend says that 20,000 soldiers abandoned battle and fled to Deshnoke. The sin of desertion is punishable by death, but Karni Mata spared their lives, instead turning them into rats and offering the temple as a place to live and serve her.
The rats are fed and worshipped, and the temple draws many people to it each year. Carvings on the door depict images of rats among gods, and rat food is sold outside the temple. Before entering, you have to take off your shoes. According to the Daily Mail, measures have even been put in place to protect the rats from harm. Accidentally stepping on a rat and killing it is considered a sin. If it does happen, then the perpetrator must buy a gold or silver rat statue and place it in the temple as a payment of sin.
The rats get around quickly, using passageways and holes in the walls, which is also where they make their nests. They will drink milk from bowls out in the open area and scurry between the legs of visitors. Children can even be seen playing with the rats, and visitors will offer them sweets.
The few white rats among the hoards of black ones are considered to be especially holy. Catching a glimpse of one is said to be a special blessing. Also a blessing – eating the food that the rats have nibbled on, and many visitors will in fact consume it.